DISCLAIMERS: Same as in Step 1
WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF?
Gabrielle took a deep, long breath barely able to contain her temper. She shifted the staff in her hands and found herself unable to stop the thought of how satisfying it would be to smack the guard in front of her upside of his head at this very moment.
Mallika had a feeling that the bard was about to do just that very thing, so she diplomatically took a step in between them.
Are you sure that Xena is not a guest in the palace? She came to have dinner with the King last night. That was before you came on watch, wasnt it?
The blond woman asked, smiling sweetly at the guard and trying to block Gabrielles scowl from his view.
The guard softened his expression towards the pretty tavern keeper.
Look, like I told you. Theres been no visitors here. Not last night. Not this morning. Not now. Nobodys been in or out of here, except for the normal deliveries. And theres certainly been no warrior princess. They would have told me about that one.
Gabrielle forced her way around Mallika.
Listen you. Xena was invited here last night for dinner with the King. Two guards escorted her here! Obviously, you have no clue whatsoever what is going on around here!
The guard growled.
Listen missy, they tell us everything. Who comes and who goes, and no one mentioned nothing about no warrior princess here for dinner with the king last night.
Youre lying! Gabrielle pointed her finger right in his nose.
You callin me a liar? the guard growled.
Mallika grabbed Gabrielles finger and pulled it out of the guards face.
The bard would not be denied, however. They obviously tricked Xena into coming to the palace last night. Shes probably in their dungeon right now!
Gabrielle backed up from the guard and began to yell out loud to anyone who would listen.
My friend is being held against her will in the dungeon and they wont let me see her! Is this how you treat guests in your city? What kind of king rules here, anyway?!
The guard became very agitated as Gabrielle continued to yell.
You better shut your friend up. The guard warned Mallika.
Mallika tried to grab Gabrielle to calm her down, but the bard shrugged her off.
Or what? What will you do? Arrest me? Good! Why dont you do just that! I want to be arrested and thrown in the dungeon! The bard yelled as loud as she could.
Mallika threw her arms around the frantic bard and pulled her away.
Gabrielle! Stop it!
What are you doing? Gabrielle extricated herself from the blond womans arms, Dont you see, if they arrest me and throw me in the dungeon, Ill get to see if Xena is all right!
Gabrielle, calm down and listen to me. Mallika grabbed the bard by the shoulders and forced her to turn away from the guard and look her in the eyes.
Gabrielle, there is no dungeon in the castle.
The bard stilled as the words sunk in.
We dont have a dungeon. We have a jail and its on the other side of the city.
Gabrielle blinked and closed her mouth quietly.
Mallika smiled, Cmon. We can walk there and take a look, just in case.
Gabrielle turned back to the guard and narrowed her eyes.
Why didnt you just say so.
The guard sneered in response and then returned to his position at the front gate.
The temptation to hit the man flashed through the bards thoughts once more before she twirled around to follow Mallika down the street and towards the city jail.
Gabrielle collapsed dejectedly down into her seat at the table. They returned to the tavern after checking for Xena at the city jail. There was no one there at all. The jail was completely empty except for the guards, who informed them politely that there hadnt been any prisoners for the past quarter moon. It was a peaceful city after all.
Are you thirsty? Lakme asked softly.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded in confirmation. She was parched. And she had a headache. Not to mention, a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She hadnt even had anything to eat yet this morning and it was almost mid-day.
Mallika noticed the bards pallor and called after Lakme.
Lakme, get a little something to nibble on while youre at it, please. Thanks.
Mallika pulled Gabrielles hands from the table where she had been picking at her fingernails and drew them into her own.
Have something to eat and drink. Then we can ask around the marketplace if anyone has seen her. Im sure someone must have noticed her. After all she is kinda hard to miss.
This brought a small smile to the bards lips. She nodded her head dejectedly. Lakme returned to the table with a tray of food and drink, and a face full of concentration. The waitress held her breath and managed to deposit the tray on the table without spilling a thing.
She beamed brightly at her blond friend. Mallika smiled proudly back and then Lakme took the seat across from them both.
You know, Ive been thinking. the dark skinned woman volunteered, We should go and talk with Chemeclees over at the Apothecarys.
Both Mallika and Gabrielle looked up in surprise.
Hes a friend of Lakmes, Mallika explained, Actually, hes been after her for quite some time. He thinks hes Aphrodites gift to women.
Lakme dismissed the comment with a wave, Dont be ridiculous, Mallika. Hes just a friend. Anyway, I know that he makes regular deliveries to the king at the castle every evening. In fact, I know he made a delivery last night because he stopped in briefly on his way there to get a peek at the new bard.
Gabrielle looked at Mallika, hope building once more in her eyes.
Lakme continued, If he went there last night, maybe he saw Xena.
Lakme, thats a great idea! Mallika reached across the table and squeezed her friends hand.
Gabrielle was about to stand when Mallika grabbed her shoulder and forced her down into the seat.
After you eat something.
The blond pointed to the plate full of food.
Xena was floating across the burning planes of Tartarus, spinning slowly, being pushed along by an irresistible force towards an inevitable destination.
No difference. Her mind whispered sadly as her eyes beheld the ghastly fields below and her ears registered the overwhelming rumblings that pulsed through the air in tepid shock waves against her skin.
She had traveled this path before. A dark shadow caught her attention and she maneuvered her body in the air until she was able to see.
The cross was spinning towards her, headed in a direct line that would intercept her in flight. She watched in despair as the cross spun end over end directly at her and realized in those few moments that there had been no change in her judgment. She would connect with the cross, once again.
No! Barely a hoarse whisper left her throat.
Her body twisted suddenly, legs straight and arms outstretched, her spirit moving into position with a will of its own to receive the final judgment.
NO! She cried, kicking her legs to disrupt the maneuver.
Xena squeezed her eyes shut and used all of her energy to resist the force pulling her along. In her mind, one clear image formed. She concentrated on that image and moved her arms to reach for it. Every ounce of will that the warrior ever possessed focused towards that which was her only hope.
The warriors scream echoed over all of the other screams and rumblings that filled the air of Tartarus as she twisted her body in one last effort to veer away from the cross. The cross was not her destiny. She knew it in the heart of her hearts.
Xena felt the whoosh of the cross tumbling by in the air, missing her completely, before the vision of Tartarus faded to complete darkness.
Paracelsuss eyes widened in fear as he watched the fluid mixed with Xenas blood begin to bubble within the tube connected to her arm. The bubbling became violent and the liquid backed up the tubes length into the flask on the table without the aid of any other external pressure.
This cant be happening! He exclaimed surprised and watched in horror as the green mixture began to simmer violently in the flask. The simmer turned to boil and boil turned to splash, and finally smoke began to fill the alchemists chamber.
The man barely had time to run behind a table for cover and throw his arms over his eyes before the flask itself exploded, filling the laboratory with smoky fumes so thick, the alchemist could no longer see his hands in front of his face.
Gabrielle! Chemeclees exclaimed as the bard burst through the door to the shop.
What a surprise. I never expected to see you here again. Chemeclees watched in dread expecting the warrior enter behind her and was a little surprised when it was Lakme and Mallika who followed Gabrielle in through the entrance instead.
Well, well. More surprises. He came from around the counter, Now I have the three prettiest women in town in my shop! How can I help you?
Cut the crap, Chemeclees. The bard demanded, impatiently. Did you deliver a package to the castle last night?
Lakme moved forward and gently pushed Gabrielle to the side. She smiled warmly at the young man.
Chemeclees, she gave the bard a let me handle this look, Sorry for the interruption, but we need your help. I know if you can help us, you will.
Mallika rolled her eyes at Lakmes obvious attempt to seduce the young man into assisting them. She smiled reassuringly at Gabrielle, telling her with a glance that if anyone could get their way with this boy, it was Lakme.
Gabrielle settled back a bit and allowed Lakme to do the talking. Besides, the suspicion that something was very, very wrong continued to grow in the pit of her belly. It was causing her throat to constrict and she was actually having a hard time swallowing. The bard massaged her throat nervously and tried to look around the shop nonchalantly while Lakme manipulated Chemeclees.
Why do you need my help, Lakme? The young man said, leaning against the counter.
Gabrielles friend is missing. Lakme began to explain.
You mean that warrior? Missing? Chemeclees said in surprise.
Yes, just like the others. Lakme stated meaningfully.
Wow. was all the young man could offer as a comment. He never thought someone like that warrior could be abducted.
She was invited to the palace last night for dinner with the king. The last we saw her, she was being escorted to the castle by the kings guard themselves!
Chemeclees was impressed that the warrior woman had been invited to dine with the king, but he shrugged his shoulders at the barmaid.
What does that have to do with me?
Well, I know you went to the castle to deliver a package. We thought when you were there, maybe you saw or heard her?
Chemeclees thought for a moment and shook his head in the negative, Nope, cant say I did.
Who was the package for? Mallika asked.
For the king, as usual. I left it outside of his private chamber, as usual. I go into the castle to deliver one practically every night. The boy stated proudly.
Gabrielles mind only registered the fact that the boy had seen no sign of Xena at the castle before she began to pace in despair around the shop. The bottles behind the counter caught her attention and she found her gaze resting upon the healing salve that she had so wanted to buy for her partner.
She turned impatiently, her mind searching for ideas, but finding none. Her eyes wandered to the opposite wall and fell upon an empty space in a line of potions.
Lakme, in the meantime was still grilling the assistant.
Come on, Chemeclees. You went all the way into the castle to the Kings private area. You must have seen or heard something. Did you hear voices at the dinner table? Smell the food being served. Anything?
Chemeclees raised his hands in surrender, Look. I didnt see a thing. No one. Not even a guard. I went in, delivered the package, and came out. Just like I always do.
Gabrielles voice surprised everyone.
What was in the package?
She was wringing her staff in her hands and staring at a row of potions along the wall.
I..I.dont know, really. It was wrapped up. Chemeclees stammered, the small bards body language making him nervous.
She turned on him and took a step forward.
Are you sure you dont know what was in the package.
Positive. I never do. I never ask. I just deliver what Paracelsus tells me to.
Gabrielle pointed to the empty space on the shelf to Mallika and Lakme.
We were in here yesterday, looking around. There was a vial full of very powerful sleeping powder right here. Now its gone! Is that what was in the package!
Look. I dont know, really. Chemeclees was backing away from the accusatory stare from all three women, I noticed that too, but I didnt ask.
Chemeclees, Lakme moved forward and spoke softly, Do you think thats what was in the package?
Lakmes soft manner and the fact that she was his friend made him feel a little remorseful. He nodded guiltily.
I think so. I noticed it missing last night, and thought so then. It seemed a little strange to me, but then who am I to question. I tried to smell the package, but the powder is odorless. Very strong. Very effective.
It would be just the thing to take a warrior like Xena down, wouldnt it? Gabrielle growled.
Chemeclees nodded in agreement, casting his eyes to the ground.
Just a sprinkle in her wine or on her food and she wouldnt stand a chance. The boy confirmed.
Gabrielle slammed her staff against the floor causing everyone to jump.
Ive got to get into that castle!
Lakme turned to her friend Chemeclees, and put her hand on his shoulder.
Chemeclees, youve got to help us, please. If this is what happened to Xena, maybe its what happened to the others. To my mother.
Sure, Ill help if I can. But what can I do?
Are you delivering a package today? Lakme inquired calmly.
Yea, Ill be delivering one this evening, just as usual.
Can you take Gabrielle into the castle with you?
Youve got to be kidding! The boy exclaimed, almost laughing.
Mallika moved next to Lakme, impressed with the direction of her idea, Sure you can, Chemeclees. You go there practically day. They trust you. Theyre used to you.
Just pretend, that Gabrielle is your, you know, girlfriend, and you want to show her around.
A small glimmer of hope began to brighten the bards mood. She saw the beginnings of a plan and it was a good one. Finally.
Thats perfect! The bard added, Just pretend youre trying to show off to me! Smooth the way for a good evening, if you get my meaning.
Chemeclees began to smile at the idea of that, but he still had his doubts.
Lakme moved a little closer and placed a hand on his arm,
As I recall, you offered me the very same tour.....once.
The boy blushed.
Please help us, Chemeclees. Mallika implored.
Chemeclees could not resist. He nodded in agreement, but then his expression became stern.
All right, Ill help. But we go in, I deliver the package, you get a look around, and then we leave! Thats it!
The three women nodded their heads in promise.
All right then, meet me back here at sunset. Thats when I make my delivery.
The three women nodded in unison again.
And wear something nice.
Gabrielle thought about hitting him with her staff, but it would have to wait until later.
Continued in Step 6
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